When I was a child, in the early grades of school, I loved the song “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” I knew all the words to it. I mean, I knew them. Other kids may have sung them or memorized them, but I knew them. I knew that the song was about a bullied reindeer, treated hideously, because exclusion is it’s own class of cruelty, by all the other reindeer. I identified with him. I silently cheered when it got to the part of the song where Rudolph, who had been cast aside by others because of difference, was needed precisely because of that difference. I knew it was a fairy tale, of course, life doesn’t work like that – even fat kids in grade two know that – and that difference was and always will be what it is … difference. And difference is rarely welcomed.
As I got older, I found the song annoying. Not because it was played so frequently to be tiresome or because it’s lyrics can get stuck in your head for days, but because of how the song ends with a celebration of the other reindeer. The reindeer who rejected him, who laughed and called him names, who never let poor Rudolf play in any reindeer games, they become the centre of the song. They get to ‘love’ him, they get to call out about Rudolph’s legacy and achievement.
How does he feel about those that tormented him now celebrating him? We are supposed to imagine that Rudolph is gladly receiving these tributes from former tormentors. We are supposed to picture Rudolph basking in the fact that he’d become useful to them, therefore worthy of their notice. We are supposed to feel the warmth of their, very belated, welcome.
I knew, just knew, that I would not have been so forgiving. I knew that I would have been angered at the simple fact that, if it had been me, I would have been expected to have just suddenly forgotten that my new ‘besties’ were my former ‘bullies.’ I couldn’t have done it.
Because something was missing.
I feel this strongly. To this very day. When I hear people who once were full of anti-gay vitriol now rushing to embrace gay marriage and, like they had never thrown a fist, or thrown an epithet, or thrown aspersions on an entire community of people. And, of course, at me. I find it hard to join them in their ‘reindeer games’ as it were.
Because something was missing.
I remember, clearly, a young girl with Down Syndrome, who had been tricked, her whole family had been tricked, into believing that she was popular and well accepted by a group of girls at her school. I remember the devastation that followed the realization that she’d been set up and used in a cruel joke. I can still see her face, while listening to her mother, crying, telling me what happened. I can see her reach out to comfort her mother. Apologize to her mother for what had happened. She hated herself in that moment. At the intervention of the school and of dedicated staff, she went back to that school and when the group called up to ask her out, like nothing had happened, she rebuffed all pressure, and there was pressure, by the adults for her to act like nothing happened and rejoin the group. She didn’t. It shocked the other professionals that I stood with her. And I did so for a reason.
Something was missing. Something was really missing.
A couple days ago I read an article about the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, speaking about a civil unions law that will recognize LGBT relationships for the first time. The Prime Minister must be quite a guy, because he understood something of vital importance. He understood, not only what the new law meant, he also understood what the lack of such a law had meant.
He said that the day was, “not befitting celebrations but apology.”
He said it. “Apology.” He further said, “With the legalization of civil partnership for same-sex couples, a cycle of backwardness and shame for the Greek state is closing.”
He recognized that people had been hurt, that there was shame attached to that hurt, and that shame had to be dealt with through the only possible action – apology.
Forgive me, but I think Rudolph was owed an apology. I think he deserved one. I don’t think that celebrations and inclusion can happen, for all the Rudolphs of the world until apology is fully and completely given.
I think that young girl with Down Syndrome recognized what no one else did. That new found welcome is suspicious without sincere and meaningful apology. She was hurt. Set up. Devastated. You don’t just move on from that. The bullies think you should shake it off and shake the hand, freshly unfurled from fist. She didn’t. I think that she was wise.
Like Rudolph, like that young girl, I wait.
When I read the article about Prime Minister Tsipras I got chills. Because he understood. And because of his apology, I believe this man. I would shake his hand.
Why all this on Christmas Day?
Because of Rudolph.
Because as we get together as families, as groups of friends, I’m guessing that there are those who need something more precious than any gift. Something they’ve been wanting for a long time.
A fresh start.
And that begins with a simple, “I’m sorry I hurt you, forgive me.”